April 13, 2019

Chapter 01 - My Name is Michael!

My Name is Michael!
Or Why I love My Brother Buddy.

My name is Michael. Not Mike or Mikie… it's Michael. I use all the letters because I not only like my name, but my mother made me promise to. It was very important to her that I would always refer to myself as Michael. After all, she fought long and hard against a group of relatives who were expecting me to be named something completely different. A name that was... well, less than popular at the time. An odious name that, as far as my mother was concerned, would cause me unwanted suffering and scar me deeply.

If not for my mother's efforts and the fortunate fact that I was born a small, undersized baby who was not expected to live, I might have been named Herbert.

I was born into a large family… and I do mean large! I am officially number 10 in a family of 15 siblings that totaled 11 boys and 4 girls. I was born in the early 50's when naming your kids after favored or rich relations was in vogue. By the time I was born most of the good names, both male and female, were taken. All of the favored relatives had a Cannata named after them. After my brother Jimmy (#6) was born a promise was made to my father's sister, my Aunt Rose, that the next boy would be named after her husband. A smelly, cigar smoking guy we had to call Uncle Herbert.

Factually speaking there is no way to refer to a person named Herbert and have him sound like a guy that any one would want to hang around with. Guys named Herb or Bert are accountants at best and more often than not janitors or appliance repair men. Kids named Herbie or Bertie are never picked for sports games and are almost always the target of bullies. Nobody is afraid of a guy named Herbert. Girls giggle at the name and cringe at the thought of being asked out by a guy with a name that belongs on a plumber with a serious butt crack issue. It's a name with a preconceived, stereotypical image attached. It's hard to take anyone with the name seriously. Names like Herbert are why nicknames were created.

My mother, in a desperate and prolonged effort to avoid keeping that promise, had two girls before all the female genes were used up. She tried her best but the family genes seem to favor male children and I was born despite my best efforts to avoid it.

I was a paltry 5lbs and on the frail side. I wasn't given much chance to live. With the potential of bearing the name Herbert as a lifelong moniker I wasn't offered much reason to live either. My mother hated the name and so did I. Even at the ripe old age of 36 hours it was clear to me that I had to back my Ma on this one. Seeing my precarious status my mother saw a chance to avoid having to burden me with it.

She argued that since I wasn't long for this world I should be named something that would place me more in the favor of God. A good strong, holy name that God would like since he was going to be the one raising me; A name that he would remember easily and perhaps fondly. So, after a lot of swearing and cursing and a few charges of blasphemy directed at my mother, I was named Michael after the Archangel.

Seeking to compromise and avoid any future battles I was given Herbert as a middle name. So I became Michael Herbert Cannata and everyone settled down and waited for me to die so they could introduce me to God for his approval. At two days I hadn't been alive long enough to do anything too bad so my entry into heaven was pretty much assured once I died.

Of course plans don't always work out as anticipated. Being true to my nature I didn't do what was expected of me and I failed to die. To be honest I didn't try too hard. Having avoided Herbert's legacy I no longer felt suicidal and began to grow. It was the first in a long history of disappointments I inflicted on my family. It was the start of a lifetime spent refusing to do whatever most people wanted me to do. It was also the first indication that, just maybe, God didn't like me. My mother thanked him for letting me live while my Aunt Rose blamed him for me not dying like I was supposed to. I haven't done much to please God since and he has done nothing to please me at all.

The relatives were, to say the least, not happy with the news of my impending survival and renewed their campaign to have a boy named after Uncle Herbert. The next male would be named Herbert in spite of my mothers disdain for the name. And so, for the sake of peace in the family, the next child was named Herbert Charles Cannata. Everyone in the Herbert camp was happy and satisfied. Everyone except my mother and, of course, baby Herbert.

But, even though she was forced to give him the name on a technicality, the reality of what his name would be was quite different. Technically he was Herbert. Legally his name as shown on his birth certificate is Herbert. But his real name is the one my mother called him from the moment he was born until her death. My mother vowed that she would never refer to him as Herbert and to my best recollection never did.

So instead of calling him Herby or Bert, my mother called him Buddy. "Herbert" was discarded and treated as one would an embarrassing family secret. Everyone took to calling him Buddy. The name Herbert was never used by anyone other than nuns, teachers and court officers. In fact anytime he was referred to by Herbert it was usually a bad sign. Either it was a note from his teacher with a bad report card attached, a summons or a bill. No one who knew him or liked him ever called him Herbert.

In fact I don't think I've ever heard anyone call my brother Buddy "Herbert". Most people don't even know his name is Herbert. To everyone he is Buddy. And as far as I'm concerned it's the best name he could have. It's not just who he is to me… it's what he is. He has always been one of my favorite brothers and a great friend as well.

He took the arrow that was intended for me. He has carried the burden that I was spared and has never held it against me. Even that time when me, my brother Dave and my friend Kevin spent an entire evenings trip on LSD laughing like idiots, making stupid jokes about his name while yelling "Hey Herb, show us that butt crack" at him whenever he came in the room.

We are still close and I love him dearly. I would do anything he asked of me and never think of him as an imposition. I owe him big time. And every time I think of him I am reminded of my mother and an old song that we also sang to him that night way back when.

"He ain't Herby… he's my brother."

Well that's who I am… next time I'll explain what I am.

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